10 Ways To Improve Your Stage Management Repertoire In 2018
The New Year is upon us, and everyone at TheatreArtLife has their hopes pinned that 2018 will be a prosperous and fruitful year for our readers. As people kick off 2018, it is traditional that they should devote themselves to causes that will make them better, whether that falls towards heading to the gym more often or giving up their cancer sticks.
Join us in a countdown to improvement with resolutions that will bring you through the year as a calm, well-respected beacon of stage management excellence.
Now, have a nice cup of tea, and repeat after me:
10 – THIS YEAR, I WILL EXPAND MY TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE.
Let’s start with a big one. The more you know about the departments around you, the better you will be able to interact with them when the need arises. If you feel uncomfortable speaking knowledgeably about audio, lighting, automation, rigging, wardrobe, etc. – now is a great time to get out of your comfort zone!
Crews respect stage management personnel who can speak their language and understand their challenges. If your crew must “dumb it down” for it to make sense, this is a clear indicator that you have a lot to learn. It needn’t be a formal course – start by approaching and asking the crew to teach you how something works. This not only builds your communication with the crew; by taking a genuine interest in their department, you’ll build allies amongst departments (which will surely come in handy at some point down the road).
9 – THIS YEAR, I WILL IMPROVE MY MUSICAL ABILITIES.
The number of times I meet ASMs who can’t count music, let alone read sheet music is utterly astounding. Perhaps they didn’t mention this in the brief when you signed up for that university course, but many of the world’s shows are set to music or involve music in some way. Whether your interests are opera and musical theatre or circus and magic, your ability to call accurately to a specific beat will often set you apart from those around you, and your inability to do so will keep you out of certain jobs.
Fortunately, this is an area that everyone can improve. If you have no musical knowledge and consider yourself incapable of counting music to even a recorded track, take a class! That could be a basic music theory course, or you could simply sign up for some affordable piano, drum or voice lessons. Each of these will cover the essentials of time signatures, tempo, rhythm and note values. Yes, better to take it further and learn to read sheet music, but even starting with basic rhythm will put you on your way.
If you can count music, but only on a basic level, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to teach how to identify and count different and more complex time signatures. Spend some time falling into the video wormhole of counting exercises.
Of course, efficiently reading sheet music is the far end of the field, and for those who can do everything short of that, it’s time to dig in. There are plenty of self-guided courses online, particularly at places like Udemy, that will get you started. Or find a musician friend and buy them coffees until they can no longer stand you.
Finally, if you consider yourself pretty great musically, there are still ways to challenge yourself. I encourage ASMs to each find a few songs with varied (and often unusual) time signatures, and then to play them for each other, challenging the other to identify the time signature of the tune to which they are listening. Here’s a starter: Hey Ya by Outkast is in a very tricky 11/4 time signature. Have fun!
8 – THIS YEAR, I WILL CLEAN UP MY PAPERWORK.
How many of you are still using that show report template that you were handed a dozen years ago? (Show of hands, please?) How many of you even have a template? There is some pretty shoddy show paperwork out there, and you should rid yourself of it right now. That’s right! Grab the bin – take that stack of shabby show reports and deposit them generously in the bin.
There was never a book on how to create paperwork. Someone, somewhere, created the templates that you use by looking at what needed to be done and getting it done. But does it actually suit your work or did it simply suit their work? Open Word or Google Docs, start from scratch and create a format that works for the projects (specifically the types of projects) that you are working on.
While we’re at it, how many of you have updated the format of your resume in the past decade? Ditch the boring and invest a few moments in yourself, creating a resume that speaks to your organizational structure and personal style.
7 – THIS YEAR, I WILL READ AT LEAST ONE BOOK ON MANAGEMENT.
It’s funny how many Stage Managers seem to forget the latter word of the job title. If you see yourself as a babysitter, you’re doing it wrong, my dears. If you think the job is about running a stopwatch, again, you’ve missed the point. Let me recommend a few titles for you to choose from:
– Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
– Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra
– The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
– Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
– Start with Why by Simon Sinek
At first glance, you may not catch why each of these books would be great reads for a Stage Manager. It won’t take you long to see the relevance.
6 – THIS YEAR, I WILL EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY.
When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, as the saying goes. And when you have your Excel hammer (that lovely spreadsheet tool that most of you can use marginally well), everything looks like a problem that should be solved with your trusty Excel hammer. Schedule? I’ll build it in Excel. Project Management updates? Let’s put it in Excel. It’s 2018, folks. The time is ripe to turn a new leaf.
Start your year by investing time in learning some new technology to move in a more productive direction.
Here are some recommendations – not for you to go out and purchase or subscribe to right away – but simply to go and do some research and see if any of these apps or services could be right to you. (Disclosure: yes, I have developed a couple of the pieces listed here, but I’m not even pointing out which, as it’s more about you finding the services which fit your management needs than any specific product.)
– Project Management – Propared, Asana or Trello
– Scheduling – Callboard & Co. or Virtual Callboard
– Timing – SMBox or ShowTool SM
– Blocking – StageWrite Software
– Others – Scannable, Time: Calc and Wunderlist
5 – THIS YEAR, I WILL EXPAND MY NETWORKING WITH OTHER STAGE MANAGERS.
We are often an introverted bunch, aren’t we? The trouble is, we end up on these very private journeys and limit ourselves to both future opportunities for work as well as opportunities to learn from each other.
Start your year by joining one of the many Facebook groups devoted to Stage Managers worldwide like Stage Management Network Australia, join an organization like the Stage Managers Association (US), USITT (US) or Stage Management Association (UK). Not only will you make a few like-minded friends along the way, but you’ll find a tremendous resource in others who can become a trustworthy panel from which to draw ideas when you are coming up empty with a specific problem. You may also find a wealth of job offers and opportunities in exchange for your networking.
4 – THIS YEAR, I WILL GAIN A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT PRODUCERS WANT FROM STAGE MANAGERS.
Wait, what?! There’s more than just running the rehearsal room and calling the show? So much more. And many of you have been missing it.
It is this writer’s opinion that the number one criteria that keep people out of the more lucrative and rewarding positions they desire are that they are so show-centric, that they’ve forgotten about the business of “show business.”
Your producer, whether amateur or professional, has their own agenda. If you view the producer as constantly being in conflict with the production, you haven’t mastered the worldview needed for a larger management role. Regularly, GSMs and PSMs make calls that impact the business. Understanding what’s in it for your producer will help you protect their business – and that’s a reputation maker.
3 – THIS YEAR, I WILL WORK ON GETTING TO THE YES.
It is actually the mantra of successful Production Managers to “get to the Yes,” meaning that the goal is to foresee, react to, and work through the obstacles so that the director and designers can get what they want, instead of throwing up sixteen reasons why an idea may be difficult or impractical.
Nobody loves a naysayer, and stage management is no exception. There will be moments when you absolutely must say No (see #2 below), but the overwhelming majority of our time should be spent helping our directors and designers get what they need from the artists and crew. And it is the successful Stage Manager who overcomes adversity to deliver that desired product, and who makes a name for themselves as a positive force within their company.
2 – THIS YEAR, I WILL PRACTICE WHEN AND HOW TO SAY NO.
Now that we are working on saying Yes, it’s important to discuss No. No is a word that should be held in reserve, used in only the moments when it will be entirely impossible to deliver something, and for reasons which you can fully articulate. Short of this scenario, the solid Stage Manager finds phrases that suit the meaning and avoids cutting people off in full.
The art of saying No is also one of intricacy, as it involves ensuring that you aren’t shutting down your cast and crew.
When the time arises, the largest thing you can do to maintain respect is to ensure that the recipient of your negativity knows they were heard. It is with the dignity of knowing we are not dismissed that we can accept a negative outcome, and this will set you apart from many of your colleagues, who are still shouting and screaming at their casts like it was 1986.
1 – THIS YEAR, I WILL KEEP BUILDING.
2018 has the potential to be a year of great growth for us all, and that happens when we decide to keep building – whatever you’d like to build, just keep moving it forward, every day. Want to start a side hustle selling pencils to ASMs? Give it 20 minutes a day. Want to express interest in 100 internships? Give it 20 minutes a day. If you spend just 20 minutes a day on the items that you want to be building, by the end of the year, you’ll have devoted over 120 hours to the cause. That’s 3 full-time 40 hour weeks from just twenty minutes a day.
What will you build this year?
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